There was a heightened level of aggressiveness by the Boston Celtics from the opening tip-off Saturday night.
They were embarrassed by the lack of physical play on their part in a road loss at Chicago two nights earlier.
However you want to describe it, the Celtics were hell bent on not getting their heads handed to them for the second time in as many games.
And that mentality set the tone for Saturday’s 104-98 win over the Hornets which extended Boston’s winning streak at Charlotte to four in a row.
“We came out with more force and we definitely set the tone early,” Boston’s Jae Crowder told reporters after the win. “That was definitely one of our key points tonight. We showed that early.”
Aggressive play isn’t knocking guys to the floor defensively or trying to dunk on someone’s head every other possession.
Boston wanted to exploit whatever Charlotte’s defense was willing to give them.
Early on that was the 3-point shot and the Celtics showed no hesitation in taking it and then making it, with regularity.
Boston opened the game with a 15-7 run, with all 15 points coming on 3-pointers. For the game, Boston was 15-for-31 from 3-point range.
Once the Hornets seemed to cool Boston’s perimeter shooters off, the Celtics then went to attacking the Charlotte interior which was a lot easier to do with Roy Hibbert (knee) not playing.
Boston outscored Charlotte 36-32 on points in the paint.
Avery Bradley (31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) had a monster game for the Celtics (2-1), and Isaiah Thomas (24 points) continued to deliver big shots when needed.
But this victory was as much about Boston elevating its game emotionally as it was them simply executing at both ends of the floor.
They could have easily brushed aside the loss at Chicago as just an early season setback, knowing there were many games left on the schedule to play.
But they took the Bulls loss very personal; to the point where they refused to accept it as anything other than a bad loss that they had to rectify immediately.
No one seemed more bothered by the Bulls loss than Crowder who had a near double-double with nine points and nine rebounds to go with four assists, two steals and three blocked shots.
And he made it clear to his teammates prior to and during Saturday’s game, that things had to change tonight.
That’s why Bradley felt the real player of the night was Crowder.
“He got everybody fired up,” Bradley said. “He was playing hard on the defensive end, kind of got everybody going.”
For Crowder, Saturday’s victory has to become part of a pattern in which the Celtics consistently find ways to improve from one game to the next.
“We gotta go and we have to get better each game,” Crowder said. “We talked about a lot of things up until this game. We just have to try and get better each game. That’s our focus.”
The idea of starting the season by losing two of the first three games was not something Crowder was willing to accept.
“That’s not the road we wanted to go down,” he said. “We felt we let one drop in Chicago the other night. We really wanted this one bad.”